Benedict XVI yesterday imposed the pallium on 46 metropolitan archbishops in a sign of their communion with the Apostolic See during mass in St Peter’s basilica.
The pallium is a stole made of lamb’s wool, symbolizing the bishop’s vocation as pastors to care for Christ’s flock and his lost sheep. It bears five embroidered crosses, a sign of Christ’s wounds and was blessed by the pope after having been placed on the Confessional, the tomb of the apostle Peter, underlining unity with the pontiff and the See of Peter.
Among those who received the pallium, there were Indian and Philippine bishops. A further 5 prelates not present in the basilica will receive it in their own diocese.
As has become tradition, there was also a delegation from the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople present at the ceremony.
This year the delegation was composed by Emmanuel Adamidis, Greek orthodox archbishop of France, director of the Orthodox Church office at the European Union; Gennadios Limouris, metropolitan of Sassima, Co-president of the mixed international commission for dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Church, and deacon Andreas Sofianopoulos, from the Patriarchal seat of Fanar.
For years now the Church of Rome and Constantinople send delegations to celebrations marking the feast of the apostles, patrons of the two Churches, Peter (June 29) and Andrew (November 30). November 30th last the Pope himself, on official visit to Turkey, took part in the feast of St Andrew in Constantinople, together with Patriarch Bartholomew I.
This ecumenical dimension, linked to the ministry of Peter and the primate, was the theme of the pontiff’s homily. “Peter’s confession – said the pope – cannot be separated from his pastoral duty to Christ’s flock”, the so called “power of the keys” (Mt 16, 17-19).
With the subtlety of a theologian, Benedict XVI explained that the confession of full faith in Jesus as the Son of God, is not just something which belongs to the Church in general, rather it is something entrusted in particular to Peter, a “task conferred on Peter by the Lord…. rooted in the personal relationship between the historic Jesus and Simon the fisherman, starting from their very first encounter, when Christ says to him : “You are Simon … you will be called Cefa (which means Peter)" (Jn 1,42). Again: “Christ entrusted Peter with a very particular task, recognising in him a special gift of faith from the heavenly Father”.
Correcting some erroneous interpretations along protestant lines, which place Peter and Paul’s vocation on the same level, the pontiff clarified: “Parallels between Peter and Paul are suggestive, but they cannot diminish the weight of Simon’s historic journey with his Master and Lord, who from the very beginning characterised him as the “rock” upon which the new community, the Church, would be built”.
The ministry of Peter, the pontiff underlined, is to insure the fullness of the Christian faith.
Inspired by today’s Gospel and by Christ’s two questions to his disciples, ("Who do people say that the Son of Man is – But who do you say that I am?” Mt16,13-20),the pope explained : “People think that Jesus is a prophet”, but that is inadequate. “Great scholars – continued Benedict XVI – recognise his spiritual and moral stature and his influence on the history of humanity, comparing him to Buddha, Confucius, Socrates and other great thinkers and figures in history” but they “fail to grasp ….. They fail to recognise his unique entity”.
Faced with these people’s response, fruit of an “external” consciousness of the figure of Jesus, “we want to make Peter’s response our own. According to Mark’s Gospel he says: ‘You are the Messiah’ (8, 29); in Luke the affirmation is ‘The Messiah of God’ (9, 20); in Mathew: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ (16, 16); and finally in John: ‘you are the Holy One of God’ (6, 69). They were all the right answers, also valid for us”.
Peter’s confession needed to be ‘corrected’ by Jesus: “in the synoptic Gospels – continues the pope - Peter’s confession is always closely followed by Christ’s announcement of his imminent passion. An announcement which provokes a reaction from Peter, who is as of yet unable to comprehend. And yet it is a fundamental element, an element on which Jesus insists with strength”.
“Today as in Christ’s time – continues the pope - it is not enough to possess the right confession of faith: it is always necessary to learn from the Lord the way in which he is the Saviour and the path we must take to follow him. We must recognise that, even for the believer, the Cross is always hard to accept. Our instincts push us to avoid it, and the tempter leads us to believe that it is wiser to save ourselves than lose our lives for our faith in the love of the Son of God made man”.
Concluding, Benedict XVI thanked the delegation from the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople and the metropolitans who received the pallium, ending his homily with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin: “May Her inexhaustible faith, which sustained the faith of Peter and the Apostles, continue to inspire the faith of generations of Christians : Queen of the Apostles, pray for us!”.
Following the celebration, accompanied by the Patriarchate delegation, the pope visited the tomb of St Peter where he remained for a moment of silent prayer.
Benedict XVI returned to the theme of ecumenism in reflections before the Angelus with pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s square.
After greeting and thanking the delegation from the patriarchate of Constantinople the pope added: “The feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul invites us in a very particular way, to intense prayer and firm action for the cause of unity between Christ’s disciples. The Christian East and West are very close and can already count on an almost complete communion, as is remembered in the Second Vatican Council; I will see that it guides our ecumenical journey. Our encounters, visits and the dialogue which is underway are not mere courtesy or attempts to reach compromises, but signs of our shred will to do all that is possible to achieve full communion implored by Christ in his prayer to the Father after the Last Supper: ‘ut unum sint’”.
The pontiff then recalled the dedication of the Pauline Year which will begin 28 June 2008 and end 29 June 2009, to mark 2000 years since the birth of the apostle Paul. “I hope – said the pope – that the various initiatives organised will contribute to a renewed missionary enthusiasm and intensify our relations with our brothers in the East and with other Christians who like us venerate the Apostle to the gentiles”.
Following the Marian prayer, Benedict XVI greeted the people of Rome, whose patron saints are Peter and Paul, wishing them “peace” and “Christian prosperity”. He asked Rome’s Christians to “always behave in a way that is worthy of the Gospel, to be the ‘yeast’ of every area of life”.
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